InnovOil speaks to Lloyd’s Register’s Clinton Abbate and Alan Turner about the company’s new pipeline monitoring service
Lloyd’s Register (LR) has released a new pipeline monitoring system called SmartSleeve.
It is based around a combination of non-welded steel sleeves and composite overwrap, with fibre-optic sensing technology and data analytics embedded within for round-the-clock real-time monitoring.
SmartSleeve promises to identify anomalies and predict failures before they happen by monitoring the physical condition of a pipeline repair or location, as well as how the surrounding environment may be affecting the pipeline.
The technology was developed in partnership with technology company Western Specialities.
SmartSleeve was invented as a way to protect sensitive and fragile sensors.
“After Macondo, a colleague of mine was looking at putting sensors on subsea blowout preventers to be able to verify operations during shearing,” LR senior concepts developer and one of the inventors of SmartSleeve Alan Turner told InnovOil in an interview.
“I was looking for various methods of coding it, and I ran across this company [Western Specialities] … our partner that does the repairs.” Turner was interested in Western Specialities Composi-Sleeve technology.
“They have a couple of different repair methods and I was seeking out various ways to protect the sensors and then they kind of came together for me … They’re putting these sleeves on pipes to reinforce sections of pipeline that either have corrosion or cracks or something that’s wrong, and it occurred to me, could we monitor that?”
The LR team realised that there might be a gap in the market that this technology could fit.
“Apart from SmartSleeve, there is currently no tool or feature set in the market that allows for the real-time monitoring of pipeline or asset repairs, as well as the monitoring of the underlying asset with any sort of insight as to the integrity of the repair,” senior analyst at LR’s drilling group Clinton Abbate, who worked as SmartSleeve’s project manager, told InnovOil.
“There are obviously repairs and there are obviously detection technologies that can verify or validate in real time the status of assets, but there is no product out there that marries the two,” Abbate added.
“I know there are some systems that are doing distributed acoustic sensing,” said Turner, referring to the technique that uses optical fibre and microphones to detect acoustic signals along a pipeline. This can be used to detect leaks and for security purposes as well.
“That same fibre, you can also do distributed temperature, which is essentially 10,000 temperature sensors,” Turner added, “So these systems have been, and are still being, employed, but you have to get in during the planning phases of the construction of the pipeline.”
Turner realised that there were a large number of repairs being carried out on pipelines around the world, and that installing a monitoring system at the same would be convenient and time-saving.
SmartSleeve is a combination of Western Specialities’ Composi-Sleeve and LR’s fibre-optic technology, data monitoring solution and integrity engineering expertise.
Composi-Sleeve involves chemically welding steel plates to the pipeline to cover anomalies. The composite overwrap provides additional support, and protects the pipeline from further corrosion as well.
“There’s two repair methods,” said Turner. “One is a rigid metal sleeve that utilises a metal-to-metal epoxy to hold the sleeve onto the pipe. The standard methodology is: they take this rigid sleeve and weld it onto the pipe.”
Welding on the sheets can bring a number of drawbacks. “It’s a high-pressure gas line, so they have to actually shut in the pipeline, which costs a lot of money. This one, there’s no need, because it’s a metal-to-metal epoxy, it clamps around it and then they torque it to compression to a certain value and we’re able to measure that,” Turner added.
“The first SmartSleeve is the rigid repair, whereby we’ve integrated the sensors into the actual metal,” Turner said. “When it shows up on site, that’s it done.
Using the metal-to-metal epoxy also means that a pipeline can remain active while SmartSleeve is installed. “As long as the pipeline is not leaking,” Turner said, “that’s the advantage of this system – you don’t have to shut the pipeline in. When you start talking 36-inch [914-mm] and 40-inch [1016-mm] lines, main trunks that go thousand of miles, that’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of product that’s flowing through the line daily.
“One of the advantages of this technology is it’s a passive system, it’s just the fibre, there’s no copper, it doesn’t corrode, it’s immune to electromagnetic discharge, i.e. lightning or pig passage, which is very high energy,” said Turner. “The conventional sensors that they use for monitoring pipes at this point as they’re electrical are sometimes disabled by the EMI produced by the pig.”
However, while Composi-Sleeve was designed as a repair solution, SmartSleeve’s analytical ability is not as limited. “SmartSleeve is a monitoring technology, whether or not the carrier or apparatus that the technology is incorporated into effects a repair function as well,” Abbate said. “It is up to the application, there is a repair solution, there’s a passive monitoring solution that provides only a monitoring capability, structurally passive in other words.”
With the sensors contained within, SmartSleeve is able to produce useful data about the state of the pipeline.
“SmartSleeve is not just a piece of hardware; hardware is only as good as the analytics on the back side of it. Without the analytical engines and LR’s technical and software capabilities it’s delivering raw information of an unknown value,” said Abbate.
On an average circular cross-section of a pipeline, “at the polar co-ordinates, with the top of the pipe being zero degrees, every 90 degrees we have three sensors,” said Turner. “One is in the hoop direction, in the circumference direction, and then we have a sensor next to that in the axial direction, which is longitudinal, then we have what is called a temperature compensation sensor.” This sensor is used to subtract out the temperature effects from the pipeline and the surrounding environment, which may affect other measurements.
“The hoop direction gives us pressure and compression,” Turner explained. “After the metal sleeve is applied and torqued to the right compression, the hoop sensors are able to take a baseline reading of how much compression the sleeve is under.
“Then we are able to zero that out, put it aside and from then on out we can monitor the operational parameters of the pipeline and then if we see changes in strain over time.
“The baselines are really important, because a mature SmartSleeve product really is more of a predictive tool than an observational tool,” Abbate said.
“With the axial sensors, since we’re measuring bending, there are transitions in the pipeline, along slopes and under infrastructure and other things where you have offsets,” he added. “These pipes are installed, sometimes in the summer time, extremely hot surface of the metals, north of 125-130 degrees [51-54 °C], then it’s buried under those conditions and then [when] wintertime comes, you get contraction. All of a sudden the pipe goes down to 30 degrees [-1 °C], depending on where it is.
“So you get these seasonally, you get cyclical fatigue, not at a high frequency, it’s at a very low frequency, it’s over seasons, over years, so we’ll also be able to measure that cyclical fatigue in those locations and be able to extrapolate out when we need to reinforce these sections that are bending over time,” Abbate said.
“The axial sensors, longitudinally, now we can detect movement,” Turner continued. “Because we have four sensors every 90 degrees, we annotate the orientation of those sensors and their polar co-ordinates.
“That gives us two measurements, a polar measurement, a vector, and an amplitude, so now that when the pipe moves, if one sensor sees compression and the other sensor that is directly across from it is seeing tension, we have a vector movement going the direction, an arrow pointing to the way it’s moving, so now we can tell you which way the pipe is moving and we can tell you how much it’s moving.
“For this field trial that we have set up for later this year, where we’re actually going to measure movement of the pipe, we put these often enough along the pipe, so we don’t cancel out the bending modes. We can take those vector measurements along with their amplitudes and can do some map on that and I can give you those four lines and show you the shape of the pipe in three dimensions,” Turner said.
“Now we can lay that over other data, GPS data, where they’re doing remote sensing via satellites to monitor the length of landmass movement, and we can correlate the data.”
Pipeline projects have been in the news a lot recently, and not often for good reasons. Major projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline, which reaches across Canada and the US, have spurred protests over their potential environmental impact.
“When you look at pipelines and what their core function is and how they’re viewed, not only by regulators but by the communities they sit in,” Abbate said, “they don’t necessarily benefit or want to hear that a company knows when a pipeline leaked. They would much prefer to hear that a company got out in front of a leak before it happened.
“The strategy, from a technical standpoint, is to apply the computer modelling and the rest to look at this baseline and to get us into the predictive world.
“That means you’re out of the court rooms and off the headlines and that’s an important distinction from saying ‘hey, we observed a leak’. It’s too late at that point.”
Turner pointed out that currently “if it is discovered through their SCADA system that they have a leak, it’s not hours, it’s days and weeks before they can figure that out.”
“With respect to the statistics, they’re pretty sobering to be quite honest with you,” Abbate stated. “In the US, there are pretty detailed failure and accident reports that are kept by FEMA and the Department of Transportation.
“Within those reports, there are details with respect to how leaks are observed or detected or made know to the operator. When we look at that information, for hazardous liquids, so oil primarily, and gas, and look at the means through which the leaks are detected, the overwhelming majority, north of 90% for both products and north of 95% for gas, they’re observed through visual means as opposed to operational telemetry.
“When you look into the details, you see that it’s actually folk who happen to live in the community, who might be driving by or might be out in the wilderness… and they observe something and they report it. That’s how the vast majority of leaks are detected.
“So there is an opportunity there for the operators in the pipeline world to get more intelligent and get data-driven with how they manage these issues and SmartSleeve is from our perspective a really good first tool to do that.
“What SmartSleeve represents challenges the status quo in terms of how pipelines manage their operations and maintenance budgets and the decision trees and thinking that goes into deploying that budget,” Abbate said.
“I think that the industry typically comes from a place of looking at liability and comparing replacement costs to that liability. In every world you’ll end up with a very conservative approach.
“What we’re challenging the community to do is revisit those decision-making criteria from a more intelligent perspective with additional information. There are decades-old decision-making approaches that go into managing how and at what rate and when, where and why pipelines are maintained and repaired and replaced when needed, and SmartSleeve allows those decisions to be made more intelligently and from an optimised perspective.
“So far, the market appears to be coming around to it,” Abbate added.
LR believes it has a technology that can meet a gap in the market, and it is one it thinks has plentiful funding available.
“We wanted to understand what pipeline companies pay per failure, so what the cost is across the businesses and stratify that based on mileage and product, etc.,” Abbate said.
“Failures average approximately US$600,000 operationally. That does not include lost revenue from production and that does not include regulatory fines and penalties, that does not include civil litigation or any liability that may be accrued there.
“When you look at annual aggregate cost to the industry, it’s over US$500 million here in the US, and those are annualised numbers across about 30 years. So the way we view that information is that that appears to be generally accepted as an annual number to incur loses along their lines and on that basis, we consider that to be available to be reallocated.”
However, LR was unable to provide exact numbers for what its cost would be.
“We can talk about the components, we won’t be able to talk about the amounts, just because the specifications drive so much of the pricing in terms of the sleeve itself as well as the various tools that are used to get the data back to the beach,” Abbate said, though he did note that “the installation can take inside of a day typically”.
“It very much follows a software-as-service model. There are periodic fees for ongoing monitoring.
“The most expensive pieces happen to be the one-off hardware in the field and the monitoring at a much lower rate, but even that’s tier-based on the desired insights and frequency of monitoring, etc.”